What is a “Good” Parent?
Today’s society puts a great deal of emphasis on the need to be a “good” parent. If you are not viewed as a “good” parent you may be judged or deemed not properly equipped to guide and raise children. So, what does society use to reference a “good” parent? Often there is a focus on the way the parent employs discipline with respect to their child or children. When a child begins screaming in public, parents often get embarrassed and hurry to quiet their child. There is always someone looking and there is a significant sense of judgment for the way that parent is handling the situation with their child. There are little murmurs as people walk by, discussing the parenting techniques being used and their effectiveness. As one of the most visible features of parenting, discipline seems to be the root of what makes a “good” parent.
Frequently, there is a focus on how to discipline the child when he or she engages in a problematic behavior. There is a notion that if you do not know how to adequately discipline your child, you cannot be a “good” parent. But that notion leads to the larger question of what is discipline? Discipline can be a variety of ways to get the child to comply with expectations. Discipline is usually a consequence after the behavior has already occurred. It is important to reflect on the reason behind focusing on the consequences rather than contemplating ways to prevent or replace the problematic behavior. It is often more difficult to reduce a problematic behavior when the concentration is simply on the consequences as a primary form of correction.
For example – a child cries when he or she wants to go outside. A common reaction might be for the parent to remove the ability to go outside as a consequence and tell the child “no” because they have been crying. This form of discipline introduces a consequence in response to the bad behavior. However, when we look at how the parent might have prevented the behavior, attention should be drawn to what initiates the child’s desire and the subsequent request, in this case the child’s desire to be outside. If the parent were to pay attention to the need preceding the request and why not being able to go outside might cause the child to cry, the fundamental need may be better addressed. What external or internal factors are contributing to the child wanting to go outside? Parents might ask themselves a few questions first. The driving need may come from the child being stuck inside all day. Perhaps it was raining. Maybe you as the parent promised the child the opportunity to play outside and they haven’t been allowed to yet. Many things could be contributing to the reason why the child is crying to go outside.
If the child is crying because they want to go outside, the next important step should be to think of ways to prevent the behavior. Let’s look at some ways to proactively prevent the behavior from occurring. One way the parent could have prevented the behavior is setting a specific time of day for the child to go outside. Another method would be letting the child know the activities set for the day. Both strategies inform the child of when or if he or she will be let outside and allows the child to plan. Often, there is a belief that children should not know or do not need to know what is going to happen. However, sharing information with the child either visually or verbally not only allows them to prepare, but also sets the parent up for success. If the child knows what to expect, they may be less likely to seek out a location or activity that is not likely to occur. Further, an exchange of information allows the parent to become aware of what the child will seek out and can therefore set up the environment to successfully prevent the behavior. The parent can even provide more opportunities to go outside during the day, or even bring those activities into the home, so the child can get an outside-inside experience.
Why is it important to discuss preventative strategies or for a parent to anticipate what a child may say or do? Like adults, children engage in behaviors repetitively. This can be out of habit or even ritualistically. Either way, by recognizing these behavioral patterns, a parent may be able to more clearly see what triggers an unwanted behavior. Identifying the triggers of certain behaviors can provide alleviation of stress from the side of the parent as well as that of the child. The ability to plan out and determine when your child is going to engage in a behavior is the golden ticket. Who knew you could tell when a behavior is going to happen?
Preventative strategies can stop a behavior from occurring because the parent is planning for a behavior that their child may exhibit. In the scenario presented above, by letting a child know what the expectations will be there is a greater chance that the child does not become frustrated by not being allowed outside on their own time table or even makes the request to begin with. In the event that the child does make the request, he or she would already know the answer to the question they asked.
Sometimes parents are already utilizing preventative strategies, yet the child continues to engage in problematic behavior. It is not only important to prevent the behavior from occurring, but to also replace the problematic behavior. Replacing a behavior simply means teaching a skill the child can engage in alternatively. For instance, if the child is screaming, the parent might want to teach the child to use his words. “Go outside,” or even point towards outside if the child is not yet able to vocally communicate. Communication often assists in alleviating some problematic behavior. This is because some children resort to crying, hitting, running away because they do not necessarily know the right words to say.
Another skill that can be taught is flexibility or waiting. Both of these skills work on developing a tolerance. Often, when teaching flexibility it is necessary to deny the request and follow with two alternative options. For example, the parent denies the child access to outside by saying that the option of going outside is unavailable. The parent then follows by giving the child some control and stating, “You can play in your room or have a snack.” By presenting the denial and an alternative option the child is able to still be involved in his life decisions, no matter how small. Another method may be waiting with the use of a visual timer. Start small – have your child first practice waiting 10 seconds before incrementally increasing the wait time by 5 seconds each time your child is successful. If the child knows how long they have to wait before being able to go outside, they may not engage in problematic behavior associated with uncertainty or frustration.
So, what is a “good” parent? There is no such thing but the use of “good” strategies to assist your child in developing new skills and reducing problematic behaviors can set you up for success. “Good” strategies help make each day as a parent easier.
Tawana is a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst who has over 10 years of experience working with children and young adults with and without learning and behavioral disabilities. Her knowledge includes treatment methodologies to support individuals with behavioral deficits and excesses. Tawana attended Teachers College, at Columbia University. She received her Master of Arts in Applied Behavior Analysis. Her educational background includes courses on applied behavior analysis, working with families with exceptional needs, and teaching early academic skills. Her experience also includes teaching in group settings using the principles of applied behavior analysis and academic strategies. While in the classroom setting she applied behavioral and academic strategies.
Tawana has established social skills groups within clinics, in home, community, and remote platforms. Tawana’s passion for leading and teaching social skills group has led to the development of The Behavior Corner, LLC. Tawana believes that providing appropriate opportunities to socialize children will lead to the future development of healthy social relationships. You can learn more about Tawana’s company at www.thebehaviorcorner.org